Wednesday 11 December 2019

Jodie Prenger Talks About A Taste Of Honey

Jodie Prenger

Written 60 years ago, Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste Of Honey is an unsentimental glimpse of working-class Manchester, viewed through the lives of Helen, played by Jodie Prenger, and her daughter Jo.

As the National Theatre’s revival arrives at London’s Trafalgar Studios, I spoke briefly with Jodie Prenger, who plays Helen about the role

JB:    Jodie, tell me all about you and Helen.    

JP:    I've said this many times, I definitely don't go for wallflowers, do I?     

I've discovered that the characters I enjoy playing the most are the most flawed, and Helen is flawed, but I find her beautifully flawed.     

I think I find her to be a woman of circumstance, a woman of truth and I've just had an absolute joy playing her. I find it brilliant the fact that the experience I've had in my life with my family coming from Manchester, realising what a struggle it was and knowing that my nan was a woman who used to graft all the hours of a day and then go get her hair done and put her jewellery on!     

So there's that kind of element where it's very relatable to me, and I think that kind of warmth, the humour, the rawness of that era and of that little part in the world that I find really kind of truthful to me. I have just thoroughly enjoyed playing Helen with every inch of my soul. I really have.    

JB:    The play is 60 years old. How do you think time has impacted upon it?    

JP:    Speaking to people at the stage door and they say those issues about race, those issues about homosexuality, those issues about being a single mother back then were so taboo. So much so that the original cast were told where the exits were in case you get mobbed by the audience.    

It was that kind of unknown entity, shall we say. But whereas today, we still deal with those issues, so it's great to bring them up and reflect on them. I mean, back then we had so far to go, but even today we still have a little bit further to go    

It's true, everyone wants their taste of honey. Everyone wants to be loved. Everybody wants to strive. Everyone wants to see the next day and have that a bit of fun in their life, but their circumstances of where they are and their place in time doesn't always necessarily allow that. So there is still that to fight another day, which we all have and probably more so in this day and age than any other time, really.    

Society from 1950s England to now has changed immensely, but we still deal with these issues and we still talk about these issues, and A Taste Of Honey is a show that was written by this extraordinary 19-year-old girl from Salford that hit at the heart because she lived in the very heart of the city. She slept In and breathed Salford, and this is where these people, these characters, slept and breathed themselves. I think when you put yourself in these situations, or when you are in that situation, it's just the most magical place to write because you are speaking from the heart. I think that's what A Taste Of Honey does.    

The play speaks from the heart because we are human beings, and I think that's what Shelagh Delaney created, a masterpiece that caught that capsule of time, but that capsule of time is so raw that we are still human beings and still fight for the same reasons and still love and want to be loved for the same reasons.     

When we were on tour, there was a lady came to see it in Manchester. Then she came back to Birmingham to see it again and told me "I had to see it again. I had to answer my own question," and I think that's brilliant, that's what Shelagh Delaney, the playwright, did.    

I’m from Blackpool, 45 minutes away from where the play was written although I often wonder if Shelagh ever went into my nan's family's laundry or cafe, which were in Manchester.!

JB:    You shot to national fame winning the role of Nancy in Oliver, following the TV talent search I’d Do Anything. Give me a comment on musical theatre versus plays?
JP:    I find entertaining, or the world of entertainment, I should say, exciting. I think if you can push yourself and find ways that you can learn things about yourself ... I mean, in every single show I do, I learn something more about myself through the character or working with the creators or working with a cast.    

Drama on TV is very different to theatrical drama, and I find plays very different to musicals. But I think it's the adaptability that I find really exciting and I find that I learn. I think the thing I love the most is working with a really ... It sounds so soft and it's going to sound like a Miss World speech, but if I've got a lovely company to work with, I just find it extraordinary. I really, really do. I've been lucky so far. I mean, I've met a couple of nutters along the way, but there is not a single one on this job.So I'm thrilled, but it's just great, and working with Bijan and all the show’s creatives has been fantastic. It really has. You always know when you get into a rehearsal room, when you have the first read-through, that's something that's quite magical. You go, "Oh, okay, now I know what we've got here." and that's exciting.

So yeah, it's not necessarily about what I prefer. I think it's about what you can learn and what you can gain and what you get out of a job. I think we are all victims sometimes, slaving at jobs that just aren't working, but I am very lucky in the fact that I just love what I do, really.

A Taste Of Honey runs until 29th February 2020 at Trafalgar Studios
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

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